In Pennsylvania, all children between the ages of eight and 17 must attend school, except as otherwise permitted under the Public School Code. After three unexcused absences, the school must serve the parents or caregivers written notice of the violation, and the parent or caregiver must ensure that the student is back in school within three days. If the student fails to return to school, the school district must file a truancy petition with the local magistrate. Legal sanctions may be imposed on the parent or guardian and may include a $300 fine per offense, imposition of court costs, the requirement that the parent or caregiver attend a parenting education program, or that the parent or caregiver perform six months community service. Failure to comply may result in up to five days jail time for the parent or caregiver, which is usually the mother.
Problems of truancy often arise in families where parents must leave for work before students leave for school despite parents’ best efforts. Additionally, truancy is greatest in overcrowded inner city schools and in areas of high poverty, two additional factors largely out of the control of the parents. Even though the predominant factors for truancy may not be in the control of the parents, the outcomes of truancy may be severe and dramatically impact both the parents and student. Truancy typically results in poor grades as the students are not in school to receive their education. Moreover, truancy is also an early predictor of school dropouts. School dropouts may face a lifetime of economic hardship, suffer poor health outcomes, and have higher rates of incarceration. Other negative outcomes often include unwanted pregnancies and substance abuse.
Given the far-reaching impact of truancy, schools should consider reaching out to local county juvenile courts and magistrates in an effort to remedy the root causes of truancy. PDE notes that the President Judges of each County Court of Common Pleas are positioned to coordinate the parties to strengthen the respective plan. Continuous punishment of parents, including jail time, is not the answer. Each Pennsylvania County has a truancy prevention program in place, with some more effective than others. Contact an MBM School Law Team member at 412.242.4400 to find out if your District’s policy meets the requirements of your County’s program.